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posted: 11/5/2013 5:35 AM

Northwestern must change its end-game strategy

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  • After a great start to the season, Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald now has to find a way to halt a five-game losing streak. Up next is Michigan on Nov. 16.

      After a great start to the season, Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald now has to find a way to halt a five-game losing streak. Up next is Michigan on Nov. 16.
    Associated Press


The Northwestern Wildcats suffered a brutal loss on Saturday.

I thought the Wildcats could beat Nebraska and come back to their campus with a 5-4 record and build some momentum for a bowl bid.

Instead head coach Pat Fitzgerald now has a five-game losing streak after gift-wrapping the victory for Nebraska by playing not to lose with nonaggressive play.

Nebraska had the ball with 1:20 to go. By letting a third-string quarterback sit behind a line while three Northwestern players rushed against six, the Wildcats gave quarterback Ron Kellogg III way too much time on a fourth-and-15 play to find Ameer Abdullah, who stretched it for a first down.

That second-to-the-last play of the game is what really did in the Wildcats. And that third-string quarterback had barely enough arm to get it into the end zone, which is why the previous play was the play of the game and changed the outcome.

Fitzgerald's actions essentially prevented his team from winning. Only about 3 percent of all "Hail Mary" passes work in football overall, which means 97 percent fail.

That's why players on the back of their heels give the offense a better chance to succeed. Of course, if the ball hits the defensive back in the hands, he should just pat the ball down and not go for the interception.

ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said before the game that Northwestern needed this win badly because they weren't just losing -- they were taking a nose-dive.

Sadly, this game was NU's for the taking. Five weeks ago they were playing Ohio State with expectations of a victory. It seems that game was their whole season.

If they had won that game, I believe it would be a different story right now. Their inability to rebound from that loss is concerning.

Pat Fitzgerald has a long-term deal with Northwestern. There has been some talk of teams such as USC and others taking a long look at him.

Well, I haven't heard much talk of that lately. The play of his teams and their execution down the stretch has put any talk of leaving on the back burner.

A coach's main job to make sure he can get his team back on its feet. Instead, they have let a promising season turn into a nightmare.

That being said, the 'Cats still have time to turn things around, but it won't be easy. Northwestern has Michigan at home on Nov. 16 and then they play No. 17 Michigan State at home on Nov. 23, followed by Illinois on the road. Michigan looks beatable, and so does Illinois.

I will be interested the next time Northwestern is in a tight game to see if Fitzgerald goes Buddy Ryan on the opponent.

I hope so, because losing like they did is horrible. But you reap what you sow.

Program notes:

I will be filling in from 6-9 p.m. Wednesday on Fox Sports radio. You can also catch me on my regular schedule of 6-9 p.m. Saturday and 9 p.m. to midnight Sundays. Check me out on iHeart radio or Fox Sports radio.

The Mike North Pregame Show broadcasts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on WIND 560-AM The Answer. Follow me on Twitter @north2north.

• Mike North's column appears each Tuesday and Friday in the Daily Herald, and his video commentary can be found Monday, Wednesday and Thursday at For more, visit

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